May 28 (Reuters) – Primoz Roglic became the first Slovenian winner of the Giro d’Italia when he retained the overall lead after Sunday’s 21st and final stage in Rome, a day after he ousted Geraint Thomas from the maglia rosa in a dramatic time trial.
Roglic, 33, seized the pink jersey with a powerful performance in Saturday’s penultimate stage and finished Sunday’s ceremonial 126-km flat route unscathed as Mark Cavendish won the stage in his final appearance at the Giro.
Jumbo Visma-rider Roglic finished 14 seconds ahead of Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and one minute, 15 seconds before Joao Almeida of UAE Team Emirates in the overall standings to add a first Giro title to his three Vuelta triumphs from 2019-21.
“It will stay for the rest of my life,” Roglic said.”I really enjoyed riding through the streets of Rome, but I still didn’t manage to realise what it means to win the Giro d’Italia.
“I tried to contain my emotions after what happened yesterday… Every win is special and I’m grateful to be able to get this one.”
In 2020, Roglic had lost the Tour de France title after giving up his lead and the overall race victory to compatriot Tadej Pogacar in a mountain time trial on the penultimate stage.
It appeared as if Roglic’s title hopes were evaporating again when he rode over a pothole around midway through Saturday’s brutal climb up Monte Lussari and his chain came off, before losing more time as he was forced to change bikes.
But Roglic, cheered on by thousands of fans from across the border to Slovenia, regrouped to take a 14-second overall advantage and made no mistake in the final stage, cruising through the Italian capital to expand his Grand Tour portfolio.
Roglic was expected to lock horns with Remco Evenepoel in the year’s Giro but the Belgian was forced to abandon while leading after the ninth because he tested positive for COVID-19.
Evenepoel, Filippo Ganna and Tao Geoghegan Hart were among the high-profile withdrawals in a tour blighted by bad weather, crashes and COVID. Only 125 riders remained heading into the final week, down 51 on the 176 who started the race.
Cavendish, who will retire at the end of the season, avoided a crash in the final straight to clinch a sprint victory, earning his first victory for Astana Qazaqstan and a 17th career win at the Giro.
The 38-year-old was teed up by his team mates as well as fellow Briton Thomas as he claimed his first win of the season.
“I’m super happy,” said Cavendish, whose first Grand Tour stage win was at the 2008 Giro. “To win here in Rome is incredible.That’s a bucket list sprint, to be able to win outside the Colosseum.
“My boys did incredible. My friends did incredible. It’s pretty emotional.”
Alex Kirsch finished second in the stage and Filippo Fiorelli crossed the line in third.
Cavendish, who has 34 stage wins at the Tour de France, will next attempt to better Belgian Eddy Merckx’s record for the most career victories at this year’s race in July.(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Pritha Sarkar)